There is a mother from Yellowknife sitting in the airplane seats in front of us, explaining to her toddler son where the airplane is flying.
“We’re going to Ottawa! There’s a Costco there and we are going to go shopping there.”
“What’s a Costco?” asked the small child.
“It’s a magical store where they have lots of things.”
“What kind of things?”
The mother explained. “Some of the things we have here, but it’s bigger! Like a candy bar. Candy bars are this big in Yellowknife, but at the Costco in Ottawa, it’s THIS big. Everything is bigger at Costco!”
“No, we stay the same. But the things are bigger!”
“How about my shoes?”
“Well, your shoes also stay the same size. But there will be a lot of them!”
I always write more when I travel away from home. I’m finding now that I am writing more when I leave Cambridge Bay, which I guess means I’m starting to really think of Nunavut as home and Ottawa as this place I visit.
Still, I have my routine whenever I return to Ottawa. Clean myself up so I look like a proper lady, not this bear that’s emerged from the Arctic wilderness. Wear real pants. Trim the cuticles, hack off the hair (including body hair).
The hair dresser and my manicurist are all talking about the new shopping outlet that just opened up in Kanata. The Tanger Outlet Centre was opened up to divert some of the shoppers that make the trek down to New York every year for some serious shopping. As I am getting my hair done, my family is trying to make their way to the shopping outlets, on its opening day, navigating through packed crowds, fighting for a parking spot, waiting in line to get the coupon book, to get into the stores, to pay for their purchases, to get the free tote. It’s too much people for me, more people than we ever see up north. For me, part of the reason why I’m down here is to do a performance at a zine launch, to sing a song I wrote about how they paved over my childhood stomping grounds and turned it into a shopping centre.
Back at the spa, my pedicurist is traumatized by my hairy legs. It’s a forest down there. I told you, I have turned into a bear. We hold on to every bit of warmth that we can up there in the north, including body hair.
“You want me to wax upper rip?” she asks me through her thick Asian accent.
“No…no….I think I’m okay,” I murmur vaguely, startled to hear about my mustache.
“But is so hairy! It take only one minute.”
“I’ll…think about it….”
By the time the hair dresser, my Vietnamese nail spa ladies, and my makeup artist is through with me, I’m looking like a fancy city bitch. I’m feeling like a fancy city bitch. Time to go live up Ottawa.
We are staying at the Fairmount Chateau Laurier to attend a wedding that is being held there. The hotel has an old but classic feel to it. It’s kind of fun to pretend we’re rich. The hotel staff greets us by name, because they’ve memorized it. We ask them to send out our stuff for dry-cleaning. We ask them to bring up safety pins for no reason. It’s comfortable, and tempting to stay nestled in our hotel room, eating Asian food takeout and watching Little Nicky for the second time on TV rather than go downstairs to the reception. But we do eventually make it down and have a great time.
The morning after, we decide to try out brunch at the Chateau Laurier. It’s kind of awkward, stumbling into this luxurious place wearing sweat pants and a wrinkled t-shirt, smelling like a hangover. The waiter offers you a wine list. “For breakfast?” you ask in surprise before you can think. You consider it briefly, and then your liver punches you from the inside, having suffered enough abuse from the night before.
Anthony Bourdain hates brunches, but I love the freedom to grab whatever you want and pile them in a disordered chaos on your plate, doing things all wrong. The cooks behind the serving dishes are friendly and helpfully tell me the names of all the French dishes available – for breakfast – names that I immediately forget. Roast beef for breakfast. Real orange juice, something we haven’t had since we pretty much went up to Nunavut.
The next day, I have the opportunity to have lunch at the Parliamentary dining room on Parliament Hill. It’s a very exclusive dining room, where only Members of Parliament, Senators, Supreme Court and federal judges, and a select few other federal figures and their guests could dine. The dining room on the upper floor, past the mysterious Spouses Lounge, in a beautiful large room with domed ceilings, brightly lit with natural looking light, with smaller private sections leading off to the sides, each section named after a different province or territory.
For a starter, I eat a kale salad with warmed breaded goat cheese. I think about how hard it is to bring kale up north, and how I’ve been trying to grow a little bit of kale in my arctic indoor garden for weeks. As my main course, I have something that the kitchen refers to as lamb lollipops served with fried gnocci, and fresh fruit with sorbet for dessert. The sorbet is a little too frozen, and I dig my spoon into it deeper – and promptly send it flying across the room and on to the carpet on the floor. Luckily the carpet is the same colour as the sorbet, so I hope that nobody notices it until I am gone.
Clearly I only carry the illusion of a fancy city bitch, and not very well.
Now that all this fancy city bitching has gone to my head, I spend the afternoon at Le Nordik Spa in Chelsea, Quebec. I know that many cities have their own version of a luxruy spa with a complex water circuit of hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms. But Le Nordik is something particularly unique: many of the pools are located outside, nestled in the beautiful woods of the Parc Gatineau. This means that you can soak in a hot tub while watching the changing fall leaves – and we all know Parc Gatineau is one of the best places in this region for this. Or you can lounge in an infinity pool that overlooks a breathtaking view of the forest valley. And when you somehow get tired of that, you can slip inside one of the huts to sit in quiet contemplation in a eucalyptus-scented steam room, or a cosy hammock carefully hung by a wood-fire stove.
There is really nothing like it. I wonder if we can install something like this in the office. By the time I’m finished, I’m so blissed out I almost don’t care about the hour stuck in rush hour traffic in the rush to go home and eat dinner.
And then the next day, I get a relaxing massage at a lovely spa located inside an old converted stone church.
I love living in Nunavut. I love our proximity to the wilderness, the simplicity of my life, and the beautiful views. But I certainly don’t mind a little luxury when we go out.